“Palindrome” by Stuart Woods

Woods, Stuart. Palindrome (1991)  
Harper, 447 pages, $5.99 paperback  
ISBN  0 06 109936 8

A woman staggers into a hospital emergency room so badly beaten she’s unrecognizable.  The patient is Liz Barwick, professional photographer and wife of pro football player Baker Ramsey.  After receiving a hefty divorce settlement from Ramsey ,thought of obtaining custody in Worcester and an additional settlement from his team, Barwick retreats to Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, to recuperate physically and emotionally.  The reconstructive surgery necessary after the beating Ramsey gave her has changed her appearance, and she hopes to begin a new life to go along with her new face on Cumberland Island.

The island is presided over by ninety-one-year-old Angus Drummond, whose family has owned and run it for generations.  Now Angus wonders who will take his place. His own descendants are scattered around the U.S., and none seems interested in living permanently on Cumberland Island and managing its affairs. While the old man worries about what will happen to his island, people who knew Liz back in Atlanta begin to die.

The book’s title refers to Angus Drummond’s identical twin grandsons, Hamish and Keir. (A palindrome is a statement that reads the same both forward and backward.) The boys were very close as young children, but the year they turned eighteen something (nobody knows what) happened between them. They have not spoken to each other since that time, and each refuses to visit his grandfather—usually even to be present on the island—at the same time as the other. Liz Barwick begins an affair with Keir.

The book’s mystery lies in the history of the Drummond family, while Baker Ramsey’s pursuit of his former wife heightens the suspense. Woods weaves these two threads together in a confrontation scene played out, in typical melodramatic fashion, during a raging storm on the island.  But despite the melodramatic ending, this is an engrossing novel of mystery, suspense, and human psychology.

Palindrome was nominated for an Edgar Award.

© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown

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